Question: My friends told me that their Rabbi told them to sell their toiletries along with their chametz, though I've never done this. Am I doing something wrong?
Answer: There is much debate as to whether toiletries with chametz ingredients may be owned and used over Pesach with differing Kashrus organisations adopting different positions.
On Pesach, anything that is rauy l’achilas kelev (can be eaten by a dog) is considered chametz. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 442: 9) writes that once it becomes unfit, one may own it over Pesach. The Mishna Berura (442:43) qualifies this ruling: while one may own it, one is still forbidden to eat this inedible ‘food’ miderabanan (See Rosh, Pesachim 2:1).
Defining what is rauy l’achilas kelev and eino rauy (unfit) is not so straight forward, however.
R’ Moshe Feinstein (quoted by R’ Avrohom Blumenkrantz, Chasdei Avrohom 23) held that one mustn't use “any kind of toiletry that human beings would eat under extraordinary circumstances (e.g. addicts to alcohol may drink hair spray when they have no alcohol).” (See Minchas Shlomo 1:17)
Certain cleaning agents and cosmetics (including nail polish remover) contain denatured alcohol, ethanol that has been made unfit for human consumption by adding chemicals (denaturants) to it. It is possible, however, through adding various chemicals, to reverse the process (though other chemicals are added to make this difficult). Unless one can ascertain that the alcohol does not come from grain, this may be chametz. R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe OC 3:62) therefore writes that one mustn't use any product containing denatured alcohol over Pesach. R’ Tzvi Pesach Frank (Mikraei Kodesh, Pesach 54) quotes both those who are strict and lenient and concludes that one should adopt the stricter position.
While the Shaagas Aryeh (75) writes that one mustn't even swallow medicine that contains chametz, most Poskim disagree (See Chazon Ish OC 116:8). R’ Ovadia Yosef (Yechave Daas 2:60) writes that a choleh may take such medicine, though not one suffering any mild discomfort. R’ Moshe Feinstein (OC 2:92) limits this hetter to swallowing pills, though forbids chewable tablets and liquid medicines. Certainly, anyone with a serious illness should continue taking any regular medication, regardless of what it contains.
R’ Ovadia Yosef (Yalkut Yosef 447:2) permits using products that contain denatured alcohol on Pesach. R’ Chaim Elazar Shapira (Minchas Elazar 5:34) writes that while people are particular, once alcohol has been denatured, it is not considered rauy l’achilah. Thus one may drive a car (on Erev Yom Tov and Chol Hamoed) even if the petrol is mixed with denatured alcohol.
R’ Shimon Eider (Halachos of Pesach p25) differentiates between different types of toiletries containing such alcohol. One only needs to be concerned about liquid ones, such as aftershaves and perfumes, etc. though not with creams, lotions and powders, etc. One should, however, be particular with anything that may be consumed, including lipstick.
R’ Nachum Weidenfield (Chazon Nachum 46) discusses using perfumes that contain chametz on Pesach. While it is ideal to sell them, there is room for leniency.